Just as I'm starting to come to terms with Kevin McHale as the Houston Rockets' next head coach, Dwane Casey appears to be back in the picture. Or, perhaps given our collective tendency to jump the gun in situations such as these, Casey never left the picture to begin with.
Adrian Wojnarowski does great work for Yahoo! and has covered this story from the beginning, but CBS Sports' Ken Berger is as close to equal ground as you'll find. This particular tidbit comes from Mr. Berger:
Sources familiar with the process have been told that Frank has been losing ground in the three-man race, but that no clear favorite has emerged. The Rockets have not extended an offer or engaged in contract negotiations with any of the candidates, sources said.
While McHale's candidacy has been bolstered by a strong recommendation from former Celtics teammate and current Boston president Danny Ainge, sources said Casey is on firm ground by virtue of the fact that he is the only candidate still coaching in the playoffs. Another person with direct knowledge of the interview process said all three candidates have presented compelling visions for the team, but not all aspects of the candidates' strategies are on the same page with Houston management.
UPDATE (9:42): Berger has added to his report that the Rockets could extend an offer as early as this Friday. Here go nothin'.
To touch base on that final sentiment, I have a feeling that it's about near impossible for any potential Rockets coaching candidate to have the same vision as Houston management. From day one -- given the vast number of interviews and the fact that there appear to be three finalists on equal ground -- the Rockets have been very picky throughout this entire process. Hell, this front office is always picky, but the winding road that this process has taken is frankly unnerving.
The Rockets must be waiting for a final deciding factor to uncloak itself. And when I look around to try to figure what exactly that factor could be, I keep coming back to Casey. He's the only coach still in the playoffs. He's unable to be hired at this current moment, meaning that if the Rockets were to want to bring him onboard, this extended "finalist" saga might be acting as a smokescreen to keep interest while the front office waits for Casey to become available.
Think about it. If the Rockets wanted McHale -- I mean, if they really, truly were convinced that he can coach the team -- why wouldn't they have already begun contract negotiations? As Berger reported, McHale could be in the running for the Golden State Warriors job. If McHale is Houston's guy, shouldn't the additional outside interest in his services compel Morey and Alexander to snatch him up now before someone else strolls in and steals him from under Houston's nose?
Again, we return to Casey. If he's still indeed in the running, this can only be a contractual delay and not a "let's see if he has more to prove" delay. I see no reason for the Rockets to wait to see if Casey wins or loses as an assistant coach in the Finals. For Houston to give the slight edge of preference to McHale based solely on a Mavericks NBA Finals loss would be utterly ridiculous, and vice-versa should Casey earn himself a ring.
A decision -- though not a signing, mind you -- needs to have been made already. The marbles are all on the table. As such, the only conclusion I can draw from the delay is that the Rockets literally cannot extend Casey an offer at this moment. That's not to say that he is the definite choice, but I'd like to think that Houston will want to compare the negotiations between the three candidates, not just two of them. Then again, money does not appear to be an issue with this franchise, so perhaps contract negotiations won't be as important as they might be elsewhere.
Maybe I'm jumping the gun once again in presuming that McHale suddenly isn't the favorite, but it's difficult for me to ignore the present circumstances. To say the least, I recommend that we hesitate to act as if "Houston Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale" is a done deal.